My understanding of anarchist history is clearly—and quite consciously—the product of certain trajectories through the field of anarchist studies and through the sectarian landscape of the anarchist milieus. It is perhaps important to underline this fact, particular as it is such a central point of my analysis that the dominant narratives regarding anarchist history have a similar character—and that “anarchist history” might, through relatively small changes in the times and places where it was told, have looked very different and perhaps gone by different names. […]
My argument about the anarchist tradition, in its most modest form, is that there is nothing about the history of variously “anarchist” ideas—particularly when the tale begins in 1840 or before—that precludes a real, future convergence toward an anarchism that both focuses on anarchy (in its strongest senses) and provides a vehicle for the sort of social reforms that have most often been promoted in the name of “anarchism.” […]
Retracing steps I took in my research 20-25 years ago is a fascinating and frequently rewarding experience, particularly now that I’m working with some figures who are perhaps marginal even to the rather loose, broad account of the anarchist and near-anarchist traditions that I’ve been constructing. Most recently, I’ve been working my way back through the writings of Calvin Blanchard (“Announcer of the Religion of Science, Professor of Religio-Political Physics, Expositor of the Statics and Dynamics of God Almighty, Advocate for the Constitution Manifest in Human Nature, and Head Member of the Society for Abolishing Utopia, and Humbug, and Failure,” etc.), the libertarian Comtean who, perhaps even more than Stephen Pearl Andrews, made a practice of expressing anarchistic ideas in a language far more directly suited to the promotion of regimes of authority. […]
One of the difficulties in explaining the anarchist critique—and of distinguishing anarchist tendencies from those that propose only partial breaks with authority—has been the fact that the two fundamental critiques associated with anarchist thought—anti-capitalism and anti-governmentalism—have been difficult to unite, despite indications that they emerged together as part of a single critique in the work of Proudhon. […]
It wasn’t really a vacation, but I did take about ten days off Facebook and I shirked some other social media responsibilities while I cleared my head a bit and reworked some projects. It’s satisfying to at least challenge the inevitability of those connections once in a while and to get a clearer sense of just what they are contributing to the ongoing work. And it was past time for me to look back through my stack of nearly completed book projects and see which of them still made sense to me, as a step toward deciding if they are likely to make sense to anyone else. […]
There is an element of anarchist theory that keeps imposing itself on my studies, often in the most unexpected times and places, which I think of — very imprecisely, I’ll admit — as a kind of vitalist tendency. By this I mean that there is a surprisingly common tendency, when attempting to speak about anarchy in its positive aspects, to make a connection to a range of ideas (life, sex, fecundity, progression, etc.) that are at once “natural” and disruptive of any very fixed, authoritative form of living or organizing social life. […]
Despite the potentially daunting number of research and publishing projects I have in progress, I really don’t get overwhelmed by the variety.
That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t get overwhelmed. I do, at fairly frequent intervals, but what is truly daunting about the project-load that I’ve accumulated over the last decade or so is the fact that it is all really just one big project.
Somehow — for my sins, as like as not — I’ve found myself committed to some deep explorations of just how the anarchist tradition developed in its earliest, formative years […]
The more we learn about the history of mutualism, the clearer it becomes that the conception we have inherited was conceived—primarily by rivals of Proudhon’s thought—as a sort of theoretical foil for the communist “modern anarchism” of the late 19th century. It’s a rather complicated tale, since what Kropotkin called “modern anarchism” was, in fact, anarchism emerging for the first time, unless we count the purely literary emergence of the term in the works of Joseph Déjacque. There had, of course, been anarchists and theories of anarchy. […]
If we want a clear indication of the gulf between the possible (resultant) anarchism suggested by Proudhon’s mature work and the historical anarchism that emerged in the late 19th century, we probably don’t have to look beyond the almost universal suspicion that Proudhon’s final works themselves mark a retreat from the anarchist project — and the fact that the resultant anarchy that seems to occupy a central place in that work simply does not seem to register among our theoretical options. […]